Reasons to go Vegetarian

When food-safety inspectors in New York City make their rounds, they often come upon merchants selling just about anything: the meat of armadillos, iquanas, primates, turtles, frogs, and rats. Some of the meat comes from endangered animals. Other cuts, if not intrinsically illegal, fail to derive from licensed inspected facilities. The sellers of such contraband (most is imported) tend to be ignorant of U.S. laws, sometimes conveniently so. They don't seem to comprehend the dangers to which they expose their customers and even the city as they raise the risk for disease and bacterial outbreak. Over one recent 21-month period, a single inspector shuttered 138 city stores.

It is estimated that 30 percent of the world's fish catch is non-target species, or "bycatch." Fishers typically in the cruelest most expedient ways—separate out the discards, only to dump them overboard, dead and mutilated. Bycatch from driftnetting is estimated at 85 percent of catch. Despite a U.N. moratorium, Italy, France, and Morocco continue this hugely destructive practice. Shrimp fishing alone is responsible for over 27 percent of the world's bycatch, despite producing less than 2 percent of global seafood.

In nature, pigs avoid filth and will trek and root over 9 miles during a 24-hour period. Yet factory internment brings a breeding sow cold, strawless floors, noxious filth, deafening noise, and immobilizing space barely larger than her own body. She will be pinned in place to expose her teats to her piglets. This highly intelligent creature will be driven insane as she endures repeated pregnancies via artificial insemination. When her productive capacity eventually wanes, her misery will end with a blade to the throat.

There are hundreds of chemicals and veterinary drugs used on today's feedlots. These vaccines, parasiticides, hormones, insecticides, feed medications, and antimicrobials are making their way into our creeks, rivers, and lakes via the feces and urine excreted by the animals. The substances act as endocrine disrupters in wild species down stream. One study showed female fish acquiring male traits and male fish acquiring female traits. Other studies have similarly found disturbing anomalies.

Ninety-nine percent of the world's water comprises salty seas or is locked up in glacial icecaps. The 1 percent left—no more—is suitable for human consumption. Yet the non-renewable freshwater reserves found in aquifers across the globe are being mined of trillions of gallons of water per year to support the worldwide meat culture. One of the greatest aquifers anywhere, the Ogallala, sits beneath America's High Plains states and is essentially being drained to oblivion in order to supply an infrastructure of feedlots and industrial slaughterhouses. Scientists say this natural wonder will be diminished by 80 percent by 2020.

A 25-percent decline in heart disease in Poland in the early 1990s coincided with the country's transformation to a market economy, which ended government subsidies to meat. A switch primarily to vegetable fats and the increased importation of fruit were also seen as factors in the decline, according to a report made by a team of multinational researchers. The authors of the report noted that the decline was "apparently without precedent in peacetime."

To produce foie gras, male ducks are force-fed a stomach-gorging cup of corn pellets three times a day with a 15-inch feeder tube. This torturous process goes on for 28 days until the ducks' livers, from which the pâté is made, miasmatically bloat to 10 times normal size. Mortalities are high due to disease, intense stress, and burst stomachs. Activist undercover video has shown rows and rows of birds panting incessantly for air in the days just leading up to slaughter. So cruel are all these practices that foie gras production is now outlawed in at least a dozen countries.

Every year, 24,000 fishers die on the job, making fishing the most dangerous occupation in the world, according to the FAO/UN. Meatpacking has the highest serious injury rate by far of any occupation. Repetitive stress disorders and knife cuts are rampant in meat plants. Poultry processing workers earn wages that are below the poverty level. Full-time contract poultry growers clear incomes of only about $21,000 annually.

Agriculture science tirelessly works to eke out every last bit of commodity wealth from farmed animals via genetic selection. Wild jungle fowl lay 2 dozen eggs per year; their maligned descendants produce an egg nearly every day. Wild sows give birth to 5 piglets; factory-borne litters yield 12 young. A century ago a steer took 4 to 5 years to grow to market weight; today the process takes only 14 months. Just 50 years ago cows gave 645 gallons of milk per year; dairies today take over three times this amount from the animals.

A chorus of research shows that eating vegetables keeps the brain young. A 6-year study in 2006 in Chicago tested 2,000 seniors, their mental acumen paired off with vegetable intake. Subjects who ate more than two servings of vegetables per day appeared about five years younger by certain indicators than those who ate few or no vegetables. Green leafies (spinach, kale, and collards) appeared most beneficial.

When you fork over that $2.99 for that 7.10 ounces of Banquet Chicken Fingers Meal, it's really quite a bargain, or so you may think. But such purchases—collectively trillions of them across the globe—are subject to a steep ecological price. Future generations will be the ones remitting its payments with global warming, aquifer depletion, topsoil erosion, deforestation and lost ecosystem services. Isn't it time to start eating lower on the food chain? Get Hip. Go Veg!

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Reasons to go Vegetarian